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Whitewater officials, lawmakers debate state budget at hearing

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Kevin Hoffman
May 5, 2011
— Three of Whitewater’s largest public employers are bracing for challenging times in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, and local residents are telling state legislators they deserve an explanation.

The Whitewater League of Women Voters organized a public hearing Wednesday, bringing together elected officials and leaders from the university and public school system. The city of Whitewater, school district and UW-Whitewater all project significant cuts in state funding, forcing changes in staffing and services.


State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, joined the eight-member panel, all describing their individual positions and expectations to more than 100 residents. The lawmakers agreed Wisconsin is facing a fiscal crisis but differed in their support of Walker’s plan to address it.


At several points, the conversation turned toward $317 million the governor proposes to put into the transportation fund for highways, all while taking away from nearly every other state department.


“I couldn’t disagree more with so much of this budget,” Cullen said. “I’m optimistic that the budget bill that was started will go back to the governor in a modified form, and I’d love to get it modified enough that I could go for it, but I’m not that optimistic.”


Voters questioned the panel for more than 30 minutes, mostly offering alternatives such as raising taxes or restructuring spending. Some also addressed Walker’s budget repair bill and the voter ID bill, which Cullen called a “sledgehammer on what is, at best, a minuscule problem” with voter fraud.


Concerns arose after residents heard City Manager Kevin Brunner and School District Administrator Suzanne Zentner detail conflicts within their budgets.


Brunner said the city will lose about $300,000 in state aid, and Zentner said the school system faces a deficit of more than $1 million. UW-W faces its own problems, many of which could depend on UW-Madison’s fate within the UW System and whether certain operational options are afforded to all campuses.


Chancellor Richard Telfer on Tuesday discussed many of the same issues with the university’s faculty senate. His preliminary budget estimates Walker’s plan will cut nearly $4.3 million from UW-Whitewater, though the college could slim its deficit down to $1.4 million through tuition increases and benefit changes.


“We understand the state is in a difficult situation, and we understand there are cuts that are coming,” Telfer said. “Give us the tools to try and manage that, and that’s really what we’re asking for.”


Many questions were directed at Wynn, who said he supported the goal of Walker’s budget but had his own list of a dozen amendments he’s recommended for it. Wynn said he opposed UW-Madison’s split from the statewide system and hoped to reinstate the recycling mandate with sufficient funding.



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